When I heard that KCRW and the Natural History Museum were teaming up to present their First Friday series this year, I was thrilled. I’m no longer a lab rat, but combining music and science is still pretty much the pinnacle of excellence for me.
I’ll admit that the inner nerd in me was probably initially more excited about the animal exhibits and dinosaur bones than Robert DeLong’s performance. I had heard “Long Way Down” make its rounds on KCRW and definitely wanted to know more about him and his unique brand of electronic pop, but the Natural History Museum is just so cool. Luckily, DeLong proved to be just as cool (or cooler depending on how much you like dinosaurs).
When I arrived, the museum was transformed. A lot of the exhibits were still open to the public, but one of the mammal halls was turned into a lounge area, where a DJ spun records in front of an elephant display. The section of the museum dedicated to Los Angeles’s history was now a venue for a pop-up performance from Quitapenas. It just seemed appropriate that people danced to the band’s Afro-Latin fusion in front of old black-and-white photographs of Los Angeles.
Robert DeLong’s show was held in another of the mammal halls, and I got in early enough to catch opening act Tom Vek. Because of the acoustics in the exhibition hall, Vek’s show was, unfortunately, a little difficult to listen to. He still played well, but I wondered if DeLong would suffer from the same problem.
The short answer is no. As soon as DeLong hit the stage, neon orange markings on his face, he got down to business. He had drum sets, keys, and various other music makers set up, and as the show went on, he made his rounds from instrument to instrument, playing with a ferocity that he very impressively kept up for his entire set.
DeLong was a one-man whirlwind of energy — he sang, he jumped, he thrashed on his drums, he aggressively fiddled with his instruments — and the audience, some also marked up in neon orange, responded in turn. Among his many instruments were a joystick, which he seemed to used to distort his voice, and a video game controller that came out as retro video games appeared on the screens behind him.
People sang along and danced in a sweaty euphoria as taxidermied mammals watched from their glass enclosures. In other words, this show fucking rocked.
I was surprised to hear Robert DeLong play “Long Way Down” only about 15 minutes into the show, but any misgivings I had about his other tracks were immediately dispelled. Throughout his set, he absolutely wailed on his drums, giving the audience a drum solo at one point and flailing his drumsticks all through the night.
Although this was mostly a one-man show, he did bring out a guest vocalist, who was decked out in a shiny silver dress and more neon orange markings, for one song and had her return with a guitarist for the close of the show.
His blend of upbeat pop and electronica captivated the audience and kept energy levels high, but I do have one gripe. DeLong’s cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” was not my favorite. The original already had a disco-y vibe, but his sped-up, glitched-out version just didn’t do it for me. Creative and unique? Definitely. But his cover just didn’t capture the original’s feel, and his twists on its tune were just too much for me.
On one of his standout tracks, “Global Concepts,” DeLong asks, “Did I make you fucking dance?” and it captures the overall mood of his show: loud and infinitely danceable in that reckless, self-indulgent way. Yes, I fucking danced. The pure energy that he injected into his songs overcame the sound-muffling halls of the museum, and by the end of his show, I was a fan.
For more info: